Interview With Greg Kasavin Of Supergiant Games

– by Brendan Reid, Editor –


Greg Kasavin

Greg Kasavin was the longtime editor-in-chief at Gamespot, has worked as a developer at EA Los Angeles, and since 2009 has been working as the creative director at Supergiant Games. Supergiant are well known for Bastion and Transistor, and are hard at work on their third game, Pyre. We got a change to catch up with Greg, and chatted about where Supergiant has been and where they are going. Check it out below!

1. What’s the story about how Supergiant was formed, and how did you get involved with them?

Supergiant’s been around since 2009, and was founded by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, whom I worked with at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles. We helped make such games as Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3, but while we were busy working on a big franchise and a big team, we were getting inspired by some of the smaller games we were playing at the time. Games like Braid, Castle Crashers, and Plants vs. Zombies really opened our eyes to what small teams could accomplish, making games that were both personal and impactful.

Amir, Gavin, and I all left EA around the same time, and Amir and Gavin moved into a house together and started working on Bastion, which was our first game. I joined them as the game was going into full production. The team grew to seven people by the end of development, all of whom worked together again on our second game, Transistor, and are now working together on Pyre.

Both Bastion and Transistor managed to find large audiences and dedicated fans, so we feel very grateful, and emboldened to keep pushing ourselves creatively with each new project.

2. What were some challenges that arose while you were developing Bastion?

During Bastion’s development, we were operating out of a living room of a house, trying to build a game engine, a game, and a team all at once, on a rather small budget since we were self-funding the project. On paper this was a lot of risk, though since most of us knew one another well either from having worked together or from long-standing friendships, we knew everyone was going to push hard to make a worthwhile game. We knew our chances of success were slim but it really felt like we had this one shot to make a game that expressed our values as a team.

We were lucky that development went as smoothly as it did. When you’re just seven people, all of those individuals are critical to the end result, and other than a lot of hard work and a lot of late nights we didn’t run into any major setbacks that could have totally disrupted development. The game itself ended up succeeding well beyond our wildest expectations, putting us in a position to stick together as a team and fund our next game, which was Transistor.

A screenshot of the beautiful isometric world of Bastion.

A screenshot of the beautiful isometric world of Bastion.

3. What are the influences, gaming-related or otherwise, that inspired Transistor

I always struggle to cite our influences…! It’s just too many things, and it tends to be very personal for each member of the team. So personal, in fact, that some of our influences we just keep to ourselves all through development. We don’t sit down and make everyone play specific games or watch certain movies or whatever. Instead we try to create a framework in which everyone on the team can do his or her best work and make that end up feeling like a cohesive whole.

Having said all that, with Transistor we wanted to make a science-fiction-themed game, having made a fantasy-themed game in Bastion. Specifically we were interested in the cyberpunk subgenre, with a sense of classical romanticism to it, and its themes of modernity, uncertainty, and relationships with technology. Pioneering authors in this subgenre like Philip K. Dick and Alfred Bester influenced aspects of the fiction, while Jen Zee our art director took inspiration from the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century to get at the world’s specific look and feel. Again, though, this is really just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m reluctant to name-check this stuff because it’s leaving out so much of what goes into our process.

The gorgeous and chilling opening scene of Transistor.

The gorgeous and chilling opening scene of Transistor.

4. What’s a new gameplay feature from Pyre that you’re excited about? 

I think of our games in a more holistic way rather than as a collection of features, and from that point of view I’m very excited by how Pyre is such a departure from our previous games. While Bastion and Transistor each explored the action RPG genre in different ways, Pyre we consider to be a party-based role-playing game. So for the first time we have this big ensemble cast of characters, rather than focusing the story on just one. The whole format of the game feels different, as you explore this mystical purgatory setting over the course of many days in game time, which means you can really get to know all the different characters. We always try to pack our games with exciting little details, and this one lets us get both closer to our world and characters than ever before, as well as delivering on a grander-feeling journey.

I also love that the central conceit of the big confrontations in this game — your characters are trying to complete a series of rituals to regain their freedom — means getting to have some antagonist characters you’ll see more than once. You’ll form rivalries with certain characters as the story advances, and since what’s at stake here is in a way even greater than life-and-death, I think it’s going to be exciting to encounter certain opponents multiple times.

5. Will Darren Korb be back at the helm for Pyre’s soundtrack? If not, what can music can we look forward to in the game? 

Absolutely! Darren and everyone who worked on Bastion is back working together on this game. You can hear some of his original music from the game’s soundtrack in Pyre’s reveal trailer. Music and audio have always been vital to our games, as it can be so effective in creating a specific tone or reinforcing key moments in the kinds of stories we want for our games. While Pyre is many ways different from Bastion or Transistor, it’s fair to say that the music and audio will be every bit as important in this one.

One of the first images of Pyre, showing multiple protagonists.

One of the first images of Pyre, showing the mysterious exiles.

6. If you had to take one game with you to a desert island (with portable solar generator, TV, and console of course) which would it be? 

Oh man! That is tough to say. I think if I had to pick just one it would be Dota 2, a game I think has limitless depth to it. While I’ve played less of it over the past couple of years once Hearthstone came into my life, I feel like Dota 2 is a safe choice for a ‘last game I’d ever need’ sort of situation, in part because Hearthstone hasn’t been around as long as I’m less sure of what the future holds in that game’s case. But yeah, as someone who works on games with a big narrative component like the ones we make at Supergiant, it might surprise you to learn I happen to really love competitive games, especially fighting games…!

To get even more excited about Pyre, check out Supergiant Games’ website. 

Brendan is an avid gamer and music enthusiast. He can often be found hiking through the woods, looking for reckless adventures to embark on.

You cab follow Greg Kasavin on Twitter at @kasavin , Supergiant Games @SupergiantGames, Brendan Reid @brendanhreid and Q-Avenue @QuincyAvenue.

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